UT Austin Wins Prestigious Award for First-Generation Study Abroad Initiative

The University of Texas at Austin is one of three recipients of the 2014 Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award, an honor given by NAFSA: Association of International Educators for innovative study abroad programming.

The award recognizes the university's First Abroad Initiative, a program piloted in 2010 to address barriers that prevent first-generation college students from studying abroad. The initiative connects first-generation college students, one of the university's most diverse and underrepresented populations, with scholarships, outreach activities and programming that make international study possible.

"I am honored that our efforts to internationalize The University of Texas have been recognized by the Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award," said Janet Ellzey, vice provost for international programs. "Our First Abroad Initiative continues to increase access to transformative educational experiences that help students go on to become competent global citizens."

First-generation college students account for between 20 and 23 percent of each incoming class at The University of Texas at Austin. Only about 8 percent study abroad, compared with 18 percent of the overall student body that studies abroad. Through the First Abroad Initiative, 268 first-generation college students have received awards that allow them to pursue their courses of study in China, Spain, Brazil, Costa Rica and other countries.

"What we've done at UT is really special," said Heather Barclay Hamir, director of study abroad. "It's not just about study abroad; it's really about educational opportunities for students who might not have had this on their radar. Not only are they getting a world-class education, but they are also receiving a true world experience."

One of the first programs of its kind, the First Abroad Initiative began in 2010 with the creation of the Hutchison International Scholars program, which provides study abroad scholarships to high-need, first-generation students. Today, the McCombs School of Business, the College of Liberal Arts and a grant from The Coca-Cola Foundation all provide additional scholarships for first-generation college students interested in international study. Significant outreach and programming within the university's Division of Diversity and Community Engagement have played a critical role in increasing study abroad participation among underrepresented groups on campus.

"Many first-generation students haven't been out of the state, much less the country," said Hutchison scholar Lorena Watson, who studied in Spain and now serves as a study abroad peer adviser. "I'm extremely excited that the International Office committed to this. It's a huge step in connecting underserved students to opportunities abroad."

The University of Texas at Austin shares this year's Spotlight Award with Albion College and George Mason University. Named for the late Senator Paul Simon, a longtime proponent of international education, the Senator Paul Simon Awards for Campus Internationalization have been honoring outstanding achievements in study abroad and international student programming since 2003.

The university will be profiled in NAFSA's fall report, "Internationalizing the Campus: Profiles of Success at Colleges and Universities," and will be honored at a ceremony during International Education Week in Washington, D.C., in November.